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Resolving workplace conflict - Bash on or call someone in?

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Why is it better to appoint an external mediator?

In this, the second of three articles on workplace mediation, I want to set out the benefits of using an experienced external workplace mediator to resolve conflict in the workplace. 

In my previous blog I outlined what workplace mediation is all about. The final blog in this series will address the issue as to when you should be using workplace mediation.

Why workplace mediation is more than just good management

I often hear stories of people who say that they have tried mediation in the workplace and that it didn’t work. Further enquiries reveal that whatever process was used it was mediation only in name but not in substance.

What are the key differences?

I list below some of the key differences between workplace mediation over “good management practice.”

Senior management

Workplace mediation



Part of the problem?

Independent, neutral


Focussed on individuals



Attributing blame or fault


No structure to process

Strong but flexible process

Broad management training

Specific workplace mediation training

Looking at the past

Looking to the future

Both parties defensive

Parties confident to get involved

The organisation’s way

Creative and explorative

Prioritising needs of the organisation

Exploring the needs of the participants

Solution in hands of management

Solution in hands of parties

What are the costs and benefits?

Disadvantage/barrier is that it appears to add to cost. Internal resource appears to be “free”, whereas an external mediator will charge a fee.

However, conflict within the workplace generates a lot of hidden costs (lack of productivity, lack of engagement and management distraction) as well as significant hard costs such as the costs of termination and recruitment.

If the use of a trained mediator is more likely to achieve a satisfactory outcome, it is an investment well made. The reality is that an effective process, expertly handled, is more likely to achieve the desired result. Indeed, in some cases the outcome of a good mediation can be truly transformative and can achieve much longer-lasting outcomes.

Using an internal mediator

A number of companies are adopting what might be termed a halfway house, which is to pay for a number of people to be trained as “inhouse mediators”. Many of the larger training organisations are promoting these qualifications. These can operate effectively within larger organisations, but the smaller the organisation the more likely it is that the mediator will “know” one of the parties, and this risks a lack of independence on the part of the mediator as well as a lack of confidence on the part of the parties’ in the confidentiality of the process.

There is a further problem with this cohort of “trained” mediators. At the point at which internal mediators emerge from their training, they are likely to feel moderately confident in their abilities to undertake a mediation. However, they need to get started soon and are likely to benefit from “shadowing” or acting jointly with a more experienced mediator. The reality is that without regular practice, a recently trained mediator will soon lose confidence in their ability to handle difficult situations.

If you would like to know more about workplace mediation, or if you have a conflict and you are wondering whether mediation would help, please call us and we would be happy to talk it through with you or to arrange a meeting. 

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